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Putin rules out reconciliation with Turkey

The Russian president resorted to crude language in reference to Turkey over the ongoing spat between the two countries continues

Published: Updated:

Russian President Vladimir Putin fired off an angry tirade against Turkey on Thursday, ruling out any reconciliation with its leaders and accusing Ankara of shooting down a Russian warplane to impress the United States.

In comments littered with crude language, Putin dismissed the possibility that the downing of the warplane over the Turkish-Syrian border last month was an accident, calling it a “hostile act”.

“We find it difficult if not impossible to come to an agreement with the current leadership of Turkey,” said Putin, addressing almost 1,400 reporters in a cavernous hall inside a Moscow conference center.

“On the state level, I don’t see any prospects of improving relations with the Turkish leadership,” he said of Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ties between Russia and NATO member Turkey have been severely strained since the November 24 incident, which led to deaths of two Russian military officers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Russia, December 17, 2015. (Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Russia, December 17, 2015. (Reuters)

Turkey has said the Russian jet strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, but Moscow insists it never left Syrian territory.

Possible ‘trade-off’

Putin said he did not rule out that Ankara was acting with tacit approval from Washington, possibly so that the United States would look the other way to let Turkey “go onto Iraqi territory and occupy part of it”.

“I don’t know if there was such a trade-off, maybe there was,” Putin said.

“If somebody in the Turkish leadership decided to lick the Americans in one place... I don’t know, if they did the right thing,” he added.

“Did they think we would run away now? Russia is not that kind of country,” Putin said, speaking of Moscow’s increased military presence in Syria.

“If Turkey flew there all the time before, breaching Syrian airspace, well, let’s see how they fly now.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015.  (AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015. (AP)

Putin also accused Turkey’s leaders of overseeing a “creeping Islamisation” of the country “which would probably cause (modern Turkey’s founding father Mustafa Kemal) Ataturk to turn in his grave.”

Putin and Erdogan have been locked in a war of words over the plane downing, and Moscow has accused Erdogan’s family of engaging in oil smuggling operations in Syria.

Putin said that had the downing of the plane been an accident, Turkish leaders should have tried to “pick up the phone and explain themselves”.

Erdogan attempted to call Putin on the day of the incident, but the Kremlin ignored his request to speak to the Russian leader.

Syrian issue

During his annual marathon session of questions and answers with journalists, Putin said on Thursday he broadly supported U.S. plans to try to push forward the Syria peace process.

The Russian leader said he generally backed a U.S. plan to prepare a U.N. resolution on Syria even though differences between Moscow and Washington remained.

But he signaled Moscow was not yet ready to withdraw its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying a new constitution needed to be drawn up and elections held to determine the fate of the conflict-torn country.

“We believe that only the Syrian people can decide who should govern them,” Putin told an annual news conference, saying Moscow would continue its air strikes in Syria for as long as the Syrian army continued its own military operations.

Trump card

Putin also referred to U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump as a talented and outstanding man.

“He is a very outstanding man, unquestionably talented,” Putin said. “He is the absolute leader of the presidential race.”

Trump said of Putin in an October interview with CNN that “I think that I would probably get along with him very well.”

“And I don’t think you’d be having the kind of problems that you’re having right now.”